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The Archive's 2023 Round Up

Updated: Feb 1


Dr Bea Lewkowicz with Jacques Weisser BEM in December 2023. Jacques survived the Holocaust in Belgium, first protected as a ‘Jewish orphan’ and then in hiding. He is the fourth child from the right

As the year 2023 draws to an end, I have been reflecting on our achievements and activities of our archive in the last year. A big highlight was the International Testimony Forum, which brought together a wide range of people. Colleagues working in Holocaust education and academia, Holocaust survivors and their families, AJR supporters and other people with an interest in the subject of Holocaust testimonies. You can read my blog on this remarkable gathering here.      



Following the Testimony Forum, we saw an increased demand in the recording of testimonies and our priority is to record as many 1st generation survivors and refugees as we can. In the last year, we interviewed three Kinder who came to the UK on a Winton train from Prague: Vera Schaufeld MBE, Lia Lesser and Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines MBE, whose summary is not yet up on the site. Their stories feature in the Warner Bros. film ‘One Life’ to be released in January 2024 and their wonderful portraits were featured in a National Portrait Gallery exhibition. Most recently, we interviewed Jacques Weisser MBE, born 1942 in Antwerp, who shared his incredible story of survival in Belgium with us, a story which has only recently fully come to light, due to the efforts of a Dutch researcher.  




Ann Callender

I am also very pleased that we still manage to reach women and men who have never shared their story. We conducted a remarkable interview with Anne Callender from Berlin who came to the UK on a domestic service visa. It was Anne's 104th birthday yesterday, on the 17th of December, and we wish her a very Happy Birthday! We also recently conducted an interview with Edith Hoare, who came to the UK on a Kindertransport from Vienna and lives in Ledbury, Herefordshire. She shared her life story and her memories of arriving on a Kindertransport for the first time with the AJR Refugee Voices Archive. We are grateful to all interviewees who entrust us with their recollections and reflections. Thank you! 


In the last year, the number of requests for photographs, documents and testimonies has increased drastically. Photos of the interviewees and photographs we captured during the interviews have appeared in newspapers, books, exhibitions, and learning materials. A special mention needs to go to ‘Jewish Migration to Britain during the Nazi period’, a wonderful resource for teachers developed by the Martin Gilbert Learning Centre which uses cases studies and extensive material from the AJR Refugee Voices Archive. 


A reason for the increased requests is our active Social Media presence. During the last year, AJR Refugee Voices has continued to grow its audiences and reach a very high number of digital users. I am proud that we play an important part in digital Holocaust education on Social Media. One of our posts describing the journey of Lia Lesser from Prague to England, received more than 100K views. Throughout the year we have received very positive feedback from our followers and a very high engagement. 


When describing the AJR Refugee Voices Archive in 2019 for an article in the Jewish Chronicle, Lord Finkelstein described the archive as ‘Voices from the Past telling Truth to the Future'. He could not have anticipated that the ‘Voices from the Past telling the Truth’, are today more important than ever before. At a time of alarmingly-rising antisemitism, hate crime and Holocaust distortion, the recorded voices in our archive matter more than ever before. 


I could have also not anticipated when I conducted an interview with Professor Ludwik Finkelstein OBE in 2006 that it would enable Lord Finkelstein to write the story of his father and his family for his brilliant book ‘Hitler, Stalin, Mum, and Dad’, published in 2023.  In his own interview for our ‘Next Generation’ series, Danny told me exactly how he discovered the interview with his father and what his family legacy means to him.



In the next year, we look forward to capturing more First Generation testimonies and expanding our series of Next Generations interviews. 


I also look forward to introducing a very exciting new project by the AJR and the UK government, announced at the International Testimony Forum, the development of Holocaust Testimony UK, a UK-wide portal of Holocaust audio and video testimony interviews. Launching in June 2023, the portal will feature collections from institutions which hold UK related testimonies and UK interviewees who have given testimonies. Users will be able to easily find our when a particular individual has given his testimony and to which institution. Many of the interviews will be freely accessible online, while others will have signposts about how best to access them. We will keep you posted about progress on this innovative new project. 


I would like to thank the entire AJR Refugee Voices Team for their dedicated work in 2023 and would also like to express our gratitude to our interviewees, supporters and their families. Thank you for allowing us to record your histories, thank you for letting us share them, and thank you for taking such great interest in these stories. Our hope is that our work will create a better world and that we can accomplish our important mission, succinctly summarised by interviewee and journalist John Izbicki: ‘Think of the past, but do not let it become the future’. 


Thank you for thinking together about the past in 2023. I wish you a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2024.   


With my very best wishes to you and your families, 

Bea


Dr Bea Lewkowicz, Director AJR Refugee Voices Testimony Archive


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